February 23, 2017

Quotes on endings

What writers and others say

Quotes on endings

Keep your end up “Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American poet, educator and linguist. Image by Marc Wathieu

“A conclusion is the place where you got tired of thinking.”
— Anonymous

“A couple of issues about ending on a strong direct quote. First, I want to make sure that the content of the quote doesn’t bias the story in one direction or the other. Whatever comes last is often most remembered. And then I want to make sure the attribution does come at the end as a downbeat: ‘which is why I now believe that balding men are sexy,’ said Clark to his barber Thursday. You gotta stick the landing and end the article on ‘sexy.’”
— Roy Peter Clark, Poynter Institute Senior Scholar

“Avoid endings that go on and on like a Rachmaninoff concerto or a heavy metal ballad. Don’t bury your ending. Put your hand over the last paragraph. Ask yourself, “What would happen if this ended here?” Move it up another paragraph and ask the same question until you find the natural stopping place.”
— Roy Peter Clark, vice president and senior scholar, The Poynter Institute, in Writing Tools

“Don’t you remember that movie you saw that had the terrible ending? Remember how you and your friends grumbled as you left the theatre? Don’t make your readers grumble when they finish your story. Make them laugh, cry, cheer, write a note to their mothers. All accomplished with a great ending.”
— Roy Peter Clark, Poynter Institute Senior Scholar

“Quote endings should be judged on two criteria: One: is it a good quote, wherever it might appear in the story. If it passes that test, then: Two: Does it offer the sense of an ending.”
— Roy Peter Clark, Poynter Institute Senior Scholar

“So much work goes into shaping the top of the story that we rarely are able to give time and energy to the two other important parts: the middle and the end. Think about it. When is the last time someone said something nice about your endings? Or, even if your endings are good, it’s possible that readers never get there, stuck as they are in the toxic waste that has settled down into the middle of your prose.”
— Roy Peter Clark, Poynter Institute Senior Scholar

“From our earliest years, we learn that stories have endings, however predictable. The prince and princess live happily ever after. The cowboy rides into the sunset. The witch is dead. The End. Or in the case of sci-fi movies: The End? Too often, in real life, the prince and princess get a divorce. The cowboy falls off his horse. The witch eats the baby. That’s the dilemma for writers: reality is messy, but readers seek closure.”
— Roy Peter Clark, vice president and senior scholar, The Poynter Institute, in Writing Tools

“Hello all you writers with flabby middles and saggy bottoms. You are part of a giant club of writers (I am president for life) whose stories too often are out of proportion. In fact, I realized today that my book manuscript had a structural problem. The last three chapters had shorter writing explanations than the first 18 chapters. So I’m worried that I’ve got the top heavy thing perching on a broomstick.”
— Roy Peter Clark, Poynter Institute Senior Scholar

 “I think the endings for reports can be very different from the endings of stories. For example, I like endings for reports that point me in some direction of action: something to think about, something to watch for, something to buy, something to pass along. What this does is to make sure that you have fulfilled the promise of the lead, but also taken the info in the lead to a new place.”
— Roy Peter Clark, Poynter Institute Senior Scholar

“Let the ending echo the beginning. Write an epilogue. Leave readers with information they can put into action. Project the reader into the future — what’s likely to happen to the site where the old hotel has burned down. Let a character “speak” the ending. Play off a standard ending: riding into the sunset, freeze frame, a kiss.”
— Roy Peter Clark, Poynter Institute Senior Scholar

“The ending of your story may say to the reader, ‘I decided to stop writing here.’ But if you have the readers’ needs in mind, you want your ending to be more than that. If your story is short, you want your ending to ‘stick the landing,’ the way a great gymnast completes a volt.”
— Roy Peter Clark, Poynter Institute Senior Scholar

“Think about a handsome man wearing a tuxedo. You see him across the room and think that he’s the next George Clooney. Great hair, sharp jacket, stylish tie. Then you look down and see that he’s go a hole in his trousers and is wearing muddy brown shoes. That’s the way a lot of our stories look. We are a top-heavy, front loaded crowd. Which is why we have to PLAN something for the middle, and PLAN something for the end.”
— Roy Peter Clark, Poynter Institute Senior Scholar

 “Get readers to read to the end of a piece. A piece unfinished is a piece unread.”
— Nancy Collins, celebrity interviewer, in Hard to Get

“It is easier to see the beginnings of things and harder to see the ends.”
— Joan Didion, American writer, in “Goodbye to All That”

“Many news stories run out of energy near the end. Trained in the inverted pyramid, and rushing to make a deadline, many writers put all the good stuff near the top and string together everything else to the end. They don’t really have a kicker; stories just dwindle away.”
— Karen F. Dunlap, president of The Poynter Institute

“In your lead, you set out a problem, introduced a novel situation, popped a surprise, posed a challenge, asked a question. In your ending, it’s only natural to look back to your lead and resolve the problem or answer the question with which you began. Has the situation changed, for better or worse? Was your initial impression accurate? What have you and the readers learned along the way?”
— David A. Fryzell, freelance magazine writer and former editor of Writer’s Digest, in “Structure & Flow”

“I know most newspaper readers don’t read all the way to the endings. But I tell myself if I do it well enough, they’ll read mine.”
— Ken Fuson, reporter, Des Moines Register

“Feature articles … rely not only on hooks but on kickers — something in the last paragraph that makes the readers feel they have had the tour, experienced a new shock of understanding. Like the end of an O. Henry story, a kicker may even force us to re-evaluate everything we’ve read in the piece.
“The technical term for such a flash of understanding is ‘anagnorisis,’ whose literal meaning in Greek is something like ‘up-knowing.’ In effect, we get a revelation of Truth Itself, hitherto concealed; we have moved to a higher level of understanding than we had before.”
— Crawford Kilian, Canadian novelist, professor and the former public education columnist for the Vancouver Province newspaper

“What are endings for? They leave an impression. If the opening line is your little trick to get readers in, an ending should be a payoff in a way that lets them take something away that’s greater than the sum of any words you have written. I try to make the last line more evocative so you hear overtones of the rest of the story, so it has more resonance.”
— James Lileks, Minneapolis journalist, columnist and blogger

“Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.”
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American poet, educator and linguist

“I always know the ending; that’s where I start.”
— Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize Laureate in Literature

“We spend a lot of time talking about how to get people into the story. But we never really spend a lot of time talking about how to get out.”
— Leonard Pitts Jr., who won a Pulitzer in 2004 for commentary

“An`ag*nor”i*sis (#), n. [Latinized fr. Gr. ; + to recognize.]
The unfolding or dénouement.
[R.]”
— De Quincey

“The most satisfying story endings reverberate like a Chinese gong. They conjure up images from throughout the story, then take you back to the beginning.”
— Chip Scanlan, an affiliate faculty member at The Poynter Institute

“I hate endings. Just detest them. Beginnings are definitely the most exciting, middles are perplexing and endings are a disaster.”
— Sam Shepard, American playwright, actor, author, screenwriter, and director

 “It’s the big finish. The close to the big sale. It is the grand finale of the fireworks display.”
— Al Tompkins, The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online

 “The best story close is like a good ending to a meaningful phone call. Don’t repeat what you already said. Like a good phone conversation, leave viewers with the knowledge and the feeling that you intended at the beginning.”
— Al Tompkins, The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online

“Don’t spend all of your energy on the first half of your story only to allow the piece to run out of gas. What you show and say at the end are often what lingers in the viewer’s heart. Good endings resolve the main theme of the story.”
— Al Tompkins, The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online

“The perfect ending should take the reader slightly by surprise and yet seem exactly right to him. He didn’t expect the article to end so soon, or so abruptly, or to say what it did. But he knows it when he sees it. Like a good lead, it works.”
— William Zinsser, writing guru, in On Writing Well
  • Go Beyond the Inverted Pyramid

    Our old friend the inverted pyramid hasn’t fared well in recent research.

    According to new studies by such think tanks as The Readership Institute and The Poynter Institute, inverted pyramids: 1) Reduce readership and understanding; 2) Fail to make readers care about the information; and 3) Don’t draw readers across the jump. In short, researchers say, inverted pyramids “do not work well with readers.”

    Catch Your Reader - Ann Wylie's persuasive writing workshop on March 22-23, 2017, in Las Vegas imageAt Catch Your Readers — a two-day Master Class on March 22-23, 2017, in Las Vegas — you’ll learn a structure that can increase readership, understanding and satisfaction with your message. Specifically, you’ll learn:

    • How to organize your message to grab readers’ attention, keep it for the long haul and leave a lasting impression.
    • Three elements of a great lead — and five leads to avoid.
    • How to stop bewildering your readers by leaving out an essential paragraph. (Many communicators forget it).
    • Five ways to avoid the “muddle in the middle”.
    • A three-step test for ending with a bang.

    Learn more about the Master Class.

    Register for Catch Your Reader - Ann Wylie's persuasive writing workshop on March 22-23, 2017, in Las Vegas


    Browse all upcoming Master Classes.

    Would you like to hold an in-house Catch Your Readers workshop? Contact Ann directly.

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